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Talks Planned to End 100-Year Guatemala Indigenous Dispute


Indigenous people block a road in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Guatemala on Dec. 21, 2021.

Hundreds of Indigenous people lifted their blockage of a major road in Guatemala on Tuesday after an agreement was reached for talks to resolve a bloody century-old land dispute.

On Monday, members of the Mayan K'iche' group had blocked the Interamericana highway with the caskets of 11 of the 13 victims of a weekend massacre in which four children between ages 5 and 16 were killed, allegedly with machetes.

The roadblock was lifted after an agreement among residents who had traveled to Guatemala City to meet government officials and try to start talks about a legal border between two rival communities.

"A dialogue will begin in the first half of January, where the issue of the border will be discussed," said Mateo Tzep, a community leader from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan municipality, which is in conflict with the neighboring Nahuala.

Indigenous people block a road in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Guatemala on Dec. 21, 2021.
Indigenous people block a road in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Guatemala on Dec. 21, 2021.

Although both communities are K'iche', they have been fighting over land — at times violently — for more than 100 years.

On Friday night, armed men with "high-caliber" weapons ambushed a group of people from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan who went to the village of Chiquix in Nahuala to pick corn.

The children were cut into pieces, and the victims were then burnt inside the truck they were traveling in. A police vehicle was also attacked, leaving one officer dead and two injured.

The Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan community claims those in Nahuala have stolen some of their land.

On Monday, President Alejandro Giammattei declared a monthlong state of siege in the two communities, which means demonstrating and carrying weapons are banned.

"These events are no longer the product of an ancestral land conflict. They are the direct consequence of an illegal armed and organized group that acted against civilians and security forces through an ambush," Giammattei said.

He vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Three men carrying M16 rifles were arrested on Sunday. Authorities said they would carry out forensic tests on the weapons to see if they had been used in the massacre.

Protesters had blocked the Interamericana — one of Guatemala's main highways, which links the capital to the west — with tires, tree trunks, rocks and concrete blocks.

"We don't want any more deaths. We don't want any more violence. We are looking for peace and justice," said a man at the roadblock who identified himself only as Diego.

Indigenous people, many living in poverty, make up more than 40% of Guatemala's almost 17 million population, according to official statistics.

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